Unconscious Bias Training the Courses Arent Broken People Are

Unconscious bias training. The courses aren’t broken, PEOPLE are.

The UK Government has announced its plans to scrap unconscious bias training and is recommending other Public Sector services do likewise. The reason expected to be given in Cabinet Office minster Julia Lopez’ written ministerial statement is that “unconscious bias training does not achieve its intended aims”. Researchers from the government are said to have found no evidence that the training, popular with highlighting bias against race, gender and sexuality, changes the behaviour of those who take part.

Leadership Trust has been delivering coaching and leadership development courses for decades. As such, we have our own experiences with both recommending and delivering unconscious bias training. We recently wrote about the research showing unconscious bias training can be ineffectual and  explored why this is. As our CEO, Lea Cleret, PhD explained the fault rarely lies in unconscious bias training as a tool, but more often, in the way in which it is delivered and to whom.

Doing the course for the right reasons

There has always been a market for unconscious bias training in the workplace. For many companies though, it is a way to tick a box and fulfil their corporate social responsibility. It is used as a means to an end; to show their stakeholders that they care, without actually concerning themselves with the standard of training provider they choose, nor the effectiveness of said training. A quick video and multiple choice quiz will never undo a lifetime of bias.

Choosing the right provider is key. For unconscious bias training to have its proposed effect it needs to not only highlight the prevalence of unconscious bias within us all, but also go a step further and provide tools to counter said biases.

Self awareness in unconscious bias training

Even with the best intentions in the world, with highly skilled facilitators and course materials, if a person isn’t prepared to heed the training it will not work. We are talking specifically about the emotional intelligence and self-awareness of those people on the courses. Without the emotional intelligence and self-awareness to look within; at where those social biases lay within themselves and to explore how that then effects those people they interact with, nothing will change.

If not unconscious bias training, then what?

So yes, there may be problems with the effectiveness of unconscious bias training. But declaring it ineffectual is lazy and ignores the many factors that are in play as to why that can be the case. We will note that whilst the government is calling for the demise of this training, they are not proposing any replacements; more effective or not. Bias in the workplace is a real and sustained issue. Racism, sexism, ableism, and homophobia are real crimes. No matter the legislation the Government has already instated, these forms of discrimination still take place daily in workplaces around the country.

Without a plan of what is needed in its place, unconscious bias training as a practice is being blacklisted. This is a rash and ill-timed action. When in 2020 we have seen a global outpouring of support for Black Lives Matter (over 390 million tweets since June 2020). There has also been a greater ability for those who face micro-aggressions or outright bullying to call out their aggressors inside and out of the workplace. As Dr Cleret points out in her post; by its very nature, unconscious bias isn’t something an individual is aware of. Therefore, you need the opportunity to learn about it and recognise it in oneself in order to break the cycle.

Unconscious bias in action

The report from the Centre for Social Investigation at Nuffield College clearly highlighted that applicants from an ethnic minority would have to send 60% more applications in order to get a positive response from an employer than a white British candidate. The GEMM report itself makes for fascinating yet sobering reading. These statistics remain largely unchanged since the 1960s. If you require a real world, recent example of the prevalence of unconscious bias, we only have to look back at the news stories of Alexandra Wilson, the Black barrister mistaken for a defendant 3 times in one day. Had the staff in the courthouse been on unconscious bias courses? Who knows? Would it have helped? Perhaps. But it is evident that nothing has a chance of changing without it.

Meeting people where they are on their development journey

We try to meet people where they are, when they need us the most. Without knowing where a person is in their own development journey, it’s impossible to tailor a course to their needs. A good learning provider understands and implements this. Is the government rash with its decision to curtail unconscious bias training? Yes. It can be incredibly effective when implemented correctly. In the same way that banning schools from using materials the government has deemed anti-capitalist or ‘extreme’ in their political view, this is another example of blanketing an entire issue at the cost of many.

An organisation implementing unconscious bias training can be a great step towards rectifying societal and cultural issues within their environment. Being aware of biases can help at all stages, from recruitment to individual journeys up the internal chain. It may be just one part of a larger movement; realigning culture, exploring your staff’s self-awareness and development through further leadership development training and coaching. As an organisation that cares for its people, unconscious bias training shouldn’t be ignored.

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